A Cape Town mother is fearing deportation after being arrested with the father of her child – because they tended to their toddler who wandered onto Muizenberg beach “illegally” during the lockdown exercise window.
“It all feels like a really bad nightmare,” Liam Bulgen said on Tuesday, after his story went viral.
Bulgen, 38, lives in Muizenberg with his fiancee, Tereza Cervinkova, and their daughter, Florence, aged 21 months.
The family spent early Monday morning cooking food to donate to the nearby vulnerable Vrygrond community.
At around 08.30am, the family decided to use the last 30 minutes of the ‘level 4 lockdown exercise window’ at their local beach, Muizenberg.
“Our daughter has literally grown up on the beach,” Bulgen explained.
“We walked on the boardwalk, all wearing masks and keeping proper physical distancing. Tereza wanted to walk ahead, to get some time to herself.
“Florence then bolted on to the beach. She was about 1.5m onto the sand, and then sat down. I tried to pick her up, but she started having a bit of a tantrum. Tereza arrived, and we were both taking her off the beach when the police came, in full force, and escorted us to their vehicles.”
At the SAPS vehicles, the couple tried to plead their case with police.
“We were both trying to understand what was happening. The one officer – ‘the muscle’ (a reference to a well-built policeman) – told me over and over again I was stupid, ‘because my daughter can die’.”
At that stage, Tereza was breastfeeding to calm her daughter down – but the mother and daughter were ordered into a second police vehicle.
“I was walked to the police van. I asked if they could ensure our daughter was transported safely, and in a baby seat – but in the end she and my wife were driven by a police officer wearing no mask.”
Bulgen has posted images of his experience on social media, including him sitting at the back of the police van, and his fiancee and daughter at the police station.
When they arrived at the station, he said there were other police officers not wearing masks, of which he posted a picture to his post.
“I was worried about my daughter’s health, so we asked if a family member or friend could come down and fetch her. In response, police said if anyone came down they would be charged.”
In the police station, they were directed to a room.
“We were in there for anything between 2.5-3 hours. We were not given a fine, but ordered to appear in court again on August 6.”
The couple were both charged with “sitting on the beach” and for “failing to confine to residence”, he explained.
Bulgen said they would protest their innocence and explain themselves. But, in the meanwhile, the family was concerned the arrest could have a devastating immediate consequence.
“My wife is a Czech national, who has lived in South Africa for 10 years – and was in the process of applying for a new visa. We had to show the police our identity, and my wife gave her passport number. She told the officer, a captain, that any pending criminal charge could be damaging to her visa application.
“If she gets charged criminally – she has to leave the country with our child,” Bulgen said with dismay.
He said the police had responded that they would immediately ensure the visa application noted the pending criminal charge against her.
Bulgen said the family had been traumatised by the ordeal – but had received messages of support “from around the world”.